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Themes of the Future: A Design Framework and a Master Theme (excerpts)

The reason many theme features make it to core is that they simply work better when they are standardized. Users know what to expect, and theme authors can focus on the design aspect rather than solving the user experience problem.

Part of the problem of the past is that each new feature adopted into core did not follow any standard design pattern or naming scheme. A huge skill in designing WordPress themes is committing the mish-mash of hundreds of classes to memory.

The block editor is in a unique position to change that by creating a universal design framework.

Gutenberg has pushed us partially in this direction, but it does not quite go far enough. With full-site editing in the future, there is a need for a more ‘holistic’ approach in tackling this problem.

Rich Tabor makes the argument that core WordPress could provide a single parent theme in his article A Look at WordPress Themes of the Future. The idea is that theme authors would be relegated to creating a child theme for this “master” theme.

The gut reaction for many would be that it would not work, themes would lose their personality and we would live in a world of cookie-cutter designs.

The reality is that we are barreling toward a future where the idea of a single parent or master theme is a serious consideration.

Most themes are custom groupings of standard elements that exist in nearly all themes. There are some decisions, aside from stylistic concerns, that make themes different from one another, such as the layout of the header. One theme might have a site title and nav menu in one block. Another might have a nav menu, title, and a second nav menu below. Yet, another theme might show a search box. In a world where full-site customization belongs to the user, those decisions become a part of the user experience rather than the developer experience.

Themes will need to stand out with color palettes, typography, and their own brand of quirkiness — a return of the days of CSS Zen Garden but on a much larger scale.

I won’t be sad about that. It would be interesting to see the competition between the top designers in the field. It may also bring WordPress theming back to an era when anyone could do it with a little CSS knowledge and determination.

While we are not quite ready for a future in which one theme rules theme all, it is a place to start the conversation. If we designed WordPress for this potential future, even if we never implement a master theme, what would the roadmap look like? What obstacles stand in the way? Is it feasible?

Read the full article on WP TAVERN